Wind Energy in Michigan

May 6, 2012 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

In 2008, Michigan passed a Renewable Portfolio Standard in hopes that it will help the State make major advances in renewable energy development over the next decade. This requires electric utilities to generate at least ten percent of their energy from renewable sources or negotiate tradable renewable energy certificates by 2015. In order to accomplish this, research is going to be needed to find new sources of energy. One source that has been recently proposed and can be easily accessed is wind energy. With the development of wind energy, Michigan has the capability to create jobs, help boost the economy and become the leader in renewable energy.

There are two kinds of wind energy, onshore and offshore wind energy. Onshore wind energy is hard to generate due to the constant changes of the wind and tends to be not efficient. For example, some days are not as windy as others. Wind in the summer sun tends to be almost non- existent in Michigan, causing the turbines not to produce energy to its maximum capacity. This will cause people to end up paying more for their electricity. But, offshore wind energy has been documented to be more efficient. Winds tend to blow harder and more consistently over water than compared to land. Constructing turbines in the water would enable the turbines to produce energy at its maximum capacity. It would also be more convenient to place turbines next to cities on the coast, which would help in decreasing transmission issues.

Michigan happens to be in a very convenient location. It is surrounded by the Great Lakes, which can provide a consistent source of wind. This makes the Great Lakes the perfect place to develop offshore wind energy farms. Currently, Michigan produces nearly 60% of its energy from coal and about 25% from nuclear power. If we are to meet the standards set by 2015, offshore wind energy development seems like an easy and convenient way to help get there.

The Great Lakes Wind Council was created in Executive Order No. 2009-1 issued by Governor Jennifer Granholm, to examine the Great Lakes for offshore wind development. The council consisted of 29 members appointed by the Governor. On September 1, 2009, the council issued its first report. It identified 22 criteria to identify the most and least desirable areas in the Great Lakes. On October 8th, the Governor issued Executive Order No. 2009-46, which told the council to continue its work by indentifying and mapping out potential areas to lease for wind energy development and gather data on public opinions concerning wind energy development. It also extended the service of the council through 2010. The council’s final report was submitted in October 2010. The report stated “35 percent of the 38,000 square miles of state- owned Great Lakes bottomlands are considered to be most favorable to the sustainable development of offshore wind energy.” Five keys areas were identified, which are known as wind resource areas (WRAs) and are southern Lake Michigan, northern Lake Michigan, central Lake Superior, central Lake Huron and southern Lake Huron. The final part of the report stated rules and guidelines that should be followed in the development of wind energy in the Great Lakes.

Permitting of wind energy development on the Great Lakes is not an easy task and can take many years. Permitting would involve at least five federal agencies and three state agencies like the U.S. Fish Wildlife Service, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Conflicts would arise between agencies on who can regulate what. Currently, there are no guidelines for offshore wind development leases. The Council did make policy recommendations for developing wind energy. They recommended that the state collect rent and royalties from wind projects, similar to oil and gas leasing on public lands.

When comparing Michigan to other states and locations across the world, Michigan is far behind. Texas currently produces the most wind energy than any other state. Michigan only has five turbines and one currently in construction. If Michigan is to start generating wind energy there are two places they can look for help. One is Denmark and the other is Cape Wind. Denmark currently has two huge wind farms and Cape Wind is the first place approved in North America to develop a wind farm.

Before the development of wind energy farms the government has to take public opinion into account. Studies have shown that citizens are more concerned with onshore wind farms then offshore wind farms. Citizens are also concerned that turbines could cause too much noise and ruin the aesthetic features like costal areas. Research has shown though that if turbines are placed six miles or further from the coast then the noise would not be heard and the turbines would only be able to be seen on a very clear day. People tend to be more supportive of wind farms after they are constructed and realize the wind farms are not as bad as first thought.

In conclusion, wind energy development can be easily achieved, more specifically offshore wind energy. More research is needed before construction can begin but Michigan has taken the right steps, in the right direction. The technology is already available to start generating wind energy in the Great Lakes. Public opinion toward wind farms needs to be taken into consideration. Currently, residents are split on the issue and are especially concerned with the beauty of the Great Lakes being maintained. Also, there is still no permitting process that was been approved for leasing lands. In the long run, these farms can produce thousands of jobs and help Michigan become a leader in renewable energy.



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